Jerrod Niemann's latest set mines country music's history
On his latest album, "Free the Music," country singer Jerrod Niemann does just that -- allows the music to breathe and take its own baby steps.
'It's really paying homage to what's already been done a million times -- that's merging country music with other formats," Niemann told SoundSpike.
"When country music first was even recorded, it was just a country boy playing the blues. You look at Johnny Cash; he's in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. You look at Elvis Presley. He's in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame."
Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys influenced "Free the Music," he added. Wills put horns in country music more than 10 years before the pedal steel guitar was invented.
"We dug through and basically educated ourselves in the process of making country music," Niemann said.
Niemann has always schooled himself on Western swing, which encompasses the use of horns. He took two years to record "Free the Music," which he co-produced with Dave Brainard. The album is infused with brasswind horns, features his live band and was recorded using a custom-built acoustic guitar featuring a B-bender. He also recorded every song on the album using "Clasp," a technology that is an analog-digital hybrid innovation.
"I wanted to tap into the analog recording process, which we used," the Liberal, KS, native said. "We also used acoustic instruments on the album. Once again, we have horns. It's time for me to pay homage to all eras of country music, even going back to the '30s."
"Free the Music" is Niemann's third record. Normally, he said, musicians aren't allowed to "step out of the box" because "Nashville is definitely a machine."
"I'm still a product of the machine I'm talking about because I learned how to work in the studio and do all the stuff from the greatest musicians in the world here in Nashville," Niemann said. "I can't really say I raged against the machine. But our record label gave us the freedom to go in make the album we wanted.
"That being said, we challenged the crap out of ourselves and said, 'What can we do differently but step outside the box more than most?'"
The biggest challenge in creating "Free the Music" was merging 80 years of music and incorporating clarinet, trombone and trumpet in the song "Honky Tonk Fever."
"It's three different tempos, three different sounds," he said. "Each has its own section."
Niemann went 180 on the soulful "I'm All About You" and recruited Colbie Caillat to sing the female parts.
"I wish I could say she called us and begged us to sing on our album," Niemann said with a laugh. "It's more like the other way around. It's the only song I wrote for the album on the piano. It has this vibe that had jazz inflections. I thought, 'This really caters to a female vocalist and I want somebody that can sing that style.' So I talked to the label. I said, 'I wish Colbie Caillat could sing on this. I know that's a ridiculous suggestion.'"
But Caillat heard the song and fell in love. Not only did she sing on the song, she made an appearance at Niemann's record release party at a 500-capacity club in Nashville.
"She was so gracious and kind and generous to sing on it," he said. "She was in a hotel room and recorded her part in a hotel room. That's how talented she is and that's why she's a Grammy Award winner. It fit perfectly because everything we did on this album was so bizarre. For her to record her part in the hotel room with us never meeting at the time ... Now we've met a couple times. We're good buddies. She's so well respected in the Nashville music community."
So is Niemann. He has written songs for the likes of Garth Brooks and Blake Shelton, references he called "significant." He performs those songs live.
"I also sing songs that inspire us," he said. "We have a horn section in the band. We touch on Johnny Cash, Bob Wills. Hopefully, you'll get to hear our twist on music and our take on it. I'm a music fan first and foremost. It's hard for me to go to a show and be bored to death. I love for the crowd to be involved. That's what makes it fun for us and hopefully that'll happen when we come to town."
30 - Indianapolis, IN - 8 Seconds Saloon
1 - Lake Delton, WI - Crystal Grand Music Theatre
2 - Milwaukee, WI - Turner Hall Ballroom
5 - Macomb, IL - The Forum
6 - Minneapolis, MN - The Cabooze
8 - Walker MN - Northern Lights Casino
15 - Rootstown, OH - Dusty Armadillo
11 - Chattanooga, TN - Chattanooga Choo Choo
24 - Columbus, OH - The Bluestone
19 - San Antonio, TX - AT&T Center (San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo)
14 - Florence, AZ - Canyon Moon Ranch (Country Thunder USA)